By W.R. Patton
As a military man involved with search and rescue, I often saw messages or reports pertaining to both military and civilian survivors and victims. I read about people who had lots of gear, plenty of food and water, but still didn’t survive. Then there were those who made it with little more than the shirts on their backs.
Take the case of the civilian pilot in Alaska who had aircraft problems and put his plane down on a frozen lake. The temperature was about –20 degrees Fahrenheit. When rescuers arrived, the pilot was dead and a note was found. It read, “I cannot survive in this temperature. I am a dead man. I am going to smoke a cigarette and then end it all.” The team found two cigarette butts, a .38 caliber pistol in the pilot’s right hand, and blood not yet frozen on the side of his head. He had not even left the cockpit. Why would a man take his life without a fight? I believe he gave in to panic and was not mentally prepared to face the situation.
I also read once about a man who crawled for more than 100 miles across the Arizona desert to safety. His car had broken down on a rural road, and he attempted a shortcut to safety. He quickly became lost and endured heat in excess of 100 degrees during the five days of his travels. He was burned black from the sun, very dehydrated and near death when he walked out. The man stated that his determination to be with his family again kept him moving. Doctors and survival experts were surprised he lived through this ordeal. He had done everything wrong (traveling during the heat of the day, not covering up exposed parts of his body and not being properly prepared) and yet he made it. Now, I don’t recommend you attempt that for obvious reasons, but it does show how human determination can aid your survival efforts.
So, what is the big difference in these stories? One man gave up before the battle even started. The other, the survivor, was determined to live. Of course, sheer will might not always save you, but it betters your chances. Let’s discuss the steps you can take to endure a dangerous situation.
Panic is a real killer. When you actually realize you are going to have to survive, keep your head. Stop. Find a place that offers temporary shelter and think. Do not go stomping around in the woods looking for your way out. Consider the who, what, when and where of your situation. Who knows where you are? Did you tell someone the details about your trip? (This should always be done, even if you know the area very well.) If that was handled right, a rescue should occur reasonably quickly.
Organize your thoughts. This is a must-do step. Take an inventory of your equipment. The time it takes to inventory your gear will assist in de-escalating your panic. Most of us carry a lot of “junk” along with our necessities, and this is a time to see exactly what you have.
Keep busy. An active mind is less likely to consider the situation hopeless. Notice I wrote hopeless and not helpless. In a helpless situation, there is no help, but keeping hope is what helps people survive. Concentrate on the little successes you experience and shrug off the failures. Don’t start feeling sorry for yourself.
Find a shelter and start a fire, even if you don’t need either. Why? It keeps you busy, and you might need them later, when you could be too exhausted or weak to make them. Additionally, there is a deep primal need for safety that is satisfied when you have shelter and fire. Ever notice how comforting a campfire is at night? The fire might not even be necessary, so the comfort is usually just psychological.
Now comes the difficult part: waiting for rescue. Let them find you. Nothing is more frustrating to search-and-rescue crews than looking for a person meandering in the woods. It is really like looking for a needle in a haystack, and it might lead to your death. Wandering blind in the bush just uses up energy that you cannot afford to lose. Stay where you are. The only exception to this is when you realize exactly where you are and know beyond any doubt how to get to safety.
If you decide to leave a survival site, leave a note, if possible, stating when you left (date/time), where you are headed, when you expect to get there, your heading (compass heading if you can), your physical condition and your full name. Make sure you post your note where it can easily be seen and in a waterproof container/bag. Again, only leave the survival site if you know exactly where you are and how to find safety.
You should always have a survival kit, which can be purchased commercially or made at home. Kits vary greatly in size and weight. Mine is very small (an old metal Band-Aid box), but I have given great thought to the contents. It is just exactly what I need to survive:
1. A good pen knife
2. Two unlubricated condoms for water storage
3. Wooden matches in a waterproof container
4. Flint and steel, and a metal match
5. Water purification tablets
6. A long strip of heavy-duty aluminum foil folded up for cooking
7. Fishing kit, i.e., hooks, sinkers, and some line. It can also be used to set snares or for other needs if you are landlocked and not near water.
8. A small commercial first aid kit (with instructions)
9. One small pack of gum and one of hard candy for emergency energy
10. A small survival pamphlet or book
With the survival kit and your usual outdoors gear, you know you have the minimum to survive. It helps you realize the situation is not hopeless. Do yourself a favor and practice using your survival items before you need them. All of this preplanning will make you more relaxed if you need to use the equipment.
What about food? Most of us could go a couple of days without food with no problems. Besides, water is much more important. Most folks are rescued before serious hunger develops.
Survival is never easy. If things can go wrong, they usually will. I know people can survive in temperatures as low as -30 and as high as 110 degrees because I have done so in training. The formula is to stay active, concentrate on the tasks at hand, build up your successes while downplaying your failures, and face each obstacle with determination to overcome. With the right psychological approach and gear, you can survive.
This article was published in the August 2005 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.